Supper club traditions merge with contemporary ideology at the East Side's new Supper.
The restaurant address of 1962 N. Prospect Ave. comes with a movie reel of memories. A suave, close-talking maître d’ who cooed “prego” in an affected accent (when it was a glitzy pasta-and-veal joint called Beccofino). A waitress who marched, teary-eyed, from the server’s station after some words with the commander of the hostess stand, Sally Papia (the Savoy Room, it was in those days). The art deco dining room on the main level of the Shorecrest Hotel has also gone by the name Lou Bruno’s and, in the digs’ 1970s and ’80s heyday, Snug’s.
You’ve got to believe there are ghosts in the walls that now contain Supper, inspired by restaurants that serve relish trays and old fashioneds but don’t look like a paint brush has touched them in 30 years. In that way and others, too, Supper is different. Co-owner Gina Gruenewald has dusted off the supper club concept, as well as the space. The kitchen got a face-lift, the bar was rebuilt, and the dining room got the leather and copper treatment, an elegant complement to the terrazzo floor and the mix of old and new chandeliers and sconces.
Gruenewald combined supper club fandom (she worked in a club as a teen) and a modern sensibility. Erik Hansen was filling in at Gruenewald’s other restaurant, Brewers Hill’s Wolf Peach, when he heard about a head chef gig at a new place on Prospect. With many local resto kitchens in his background (Distil, Hinterland, University Club), Hansen jumped at it, excited to “push the supper club traditions in a new direction,” he says. The Texas-born chef has lived in this area since age 7, but unlike Gruenewald, he was new to the supper club ethos. Which means he was open to revisions; no cow was considered sacred. That’s an important note to traditionalists out there. Even the “classics” aren’t quite classic (such as the Waldorf salad with its roasted grapes and lemon aioli).
The results are consequently mixed. The complementary relish tray is all promise – bright, beautiful pickled (and raw) vegetables with house-made ranch dressing, along with rolls (baked at Wolf Peach) and whipped, seasoned butter. Timing dictates the consumption of a Lazy Susan – standouts from which are truffle deviled eggs; hunks of rich, smoky braunschweiger; and creamy smoked trout mousse ($22, or three items for $11). On a separate appetizer plate, pearly half-shells hold slippery, creamy bivalves covered in Rockefeller buttery breadcrumbs and spinach ($14).
So it’s unfortunate the wedge and Waldorf salads ($9 and $11) don’t follow Susan’s promising start. For the wedge, the downfall is soft bacon and runny buttermilk-dill dressing. The Waldorf is a victim of over-creativity – roasted grapes , lemon aioli, watercress and spiced walnuts. Also, celery root instead of apple.
The tone soars back up with entrées like the bone-in pork chop ($31) with crispy chive spaetzle, braised little cipollini onions, a spiced apple butter and ginger crème fraîche; and a well-balanced special of thick, mustard-crusted venison medallions with blackberry bordelaise and a pool of leek fondue ($42).
Lobster de Jonghe ($36) offers the front-and-center plating of a butter-poached tail, firm slices of gremolata bread pudding scattered around it. Creamed spinach completes the mellow picture.
Contrast that with drops of parsley emulsion and cherry reduction between bits of apple/wild rice salad and two portions of golden, crackly skin duck – a pan-roasted breast and confited leg ($33). Meanwhile, Supper’s take on steak Diane ($40) is a 14-ounce New York strip with Worcestershire emulsion and veal reduction, served simply with roasted mushrooms. That departs from the Dianes that are filets or medallions served with a flambéed sauce. I confess to longing for a Diane of yore.
But holding inflexibly to traditions has its shortcomings. It might mean missing alternating layers of lemon chiffon cake and house-made dark cherry ice cream, the top layer capped with orange meringue and the plate dabbed with brandied cherries. That’s Supper’s fetching baked Alaska ($10).
A few years have separated the last restaurant in this space from the present one. The spark is there. It may simply need more kindling to build a strong fire. 2016 promises to be a palatable year.
Supper: 1962 N. Prospect Ave., 414-509-6074. Hours: Dinner daily. Prices: Entrées $17-$44. Service: Enthusiastic, friendly, also still learning. Reservations: Recommended.